Over the past 50 years, the world has witnessed a massive decline in the health of its fisheries. Quite simply, we are removing fish from the ocean at a far greater rate than they can naturally replenish. Fisheries are big business – with a staggering 109 million tonnes of marine fish caught globally in 2018. These fisheries provide millions of people with income, food and nutrition – yet many fish stocks are being severely misused.
The Global Fishing Index is a comprehensive report on the state of marine fisheries around the world. A world-first assessment of the governance and sustainability of fisheries in 142 coastal states, the Index uncovers critical gaps leading to overfishing and calls on governments and businesses to declare their intent and demonstrate action to reverse fisheries decline.
1. HALF OF ASSESSED FISH STOCKS ARE OVERFISHED – AND NEARLY 1 IN 10 HAVE BEEN DRIVEN TO THE POINT OF COLLAPSE
Of the 1,465 stocks we assessed, 49 per cent are overfished – meaning they have been depleted below 40 per cent of unfished populations (the level that can produce MSY). This is considerably higher than a previous estimate of 34 per cent, based on a smaller sample of stocks.12 Additionally, if we were to apply a hard limit for MSY at 50 per cent (with no margin of error), the proportion of overfished stocks would rise to 62 per cent.
2. HALF OF THE GLOBAL CATCH IS FROM UNASSESSED STOCKS, WHICH LACK THE DATA TO SAY IF THEY ARE SUSTAINABLE OR NOT
Fifty-two per cent of the global catch since 1990 has come from stocks that lack sufficient data to estimate stock abundance. As a result, we do not know if this catch is sustainable. Without this information, decision-makers are operating ‘in the dark’, unable to effectively manage fisheries.
3. WITH FEW EXCEPTIONS, COUNTRIES ARE FAILING TO DELIVER ON GLOBAL COMMITMENTS
We find that globally, there is a clear gap between management commitments and the actions required to achieve on-the-water change. Over half (56 per cent) of the countries in our dataset have developed basic governance and management frameworks to prevent overfishing and restore fish stocks. However, on average countries score only 19 out of 100 for progress; this means that they are only one-fifth of the way towards achieving SDG target 14.4.
4. MOST FISHERIES LACK SCIENCE-BASED MANAGEMENT
Science-based fisheries management, in which policy and management actions are based on fisheries data, is essential for preventing overfishing and securing sustainable fisheries.
We find that most countries do not, and are currently unable to, effectively apply science-based management in all fisheries. This is because they do not collect or analyse basic fisheries data, do not base management on scientific evidence and/or do not monitor or enforce regulations to ensure fishers comply with the rules.
Even the highest performing countries are failing to apply science-based management in all fisheries. Nonetheless, most countries (85 per cent) have set clear environmental sustainability goals to guide decision-making – the first step of science-based management.
5. KEY STAKEHOLDERS, INCLUDING LOCAL FISHING COMMUNITIES, ARE UNABLE TO EFFECTIVELY PARTICIPATE IN MANAGEMENT
Despite their importance in enabling effective management, few countries empower stakeholders, including local fishing communities, to meaningfully participate in management processes. Stakeholders act as a source of information on fishing activities, threats and stock and ecosystem health and help hold decision-makers to account. Stakeholder participation in decision-making, especially fishers, can also increase compliance with the rules, reducing enforcement costs.
Yet one-quarter of countries assessed do not legally require authorities to include fishers in decision-making. Additionally, nearly 40 per cent of countries lack ‘bottom up’ forms of governance, such as community-based or customary management, where stakeholders are active participants in management processes.
In many countries, stakeholders lack the capacity to effectively engage in management due to a lack of organisation and representation, such as through fisher working groups or cooperatives, or transparency in decision-making. For example, only 23 per cent of countries publish minutes from management meetings, making it difficult for people to respond or to track how decisions are made. Transparency in decision-making is critical for improving information sharing, as well as holding decision-makers to account and tackling fisheries corruption.
With nearly 10% of fish stocks globally are now on the brink of collapse, we are emptying the ocean. What can you do? It's simple: ask questions about the seafood you buy, and make sure it's sustainable. Find out where your fish came from, what species it is and if it was caught sustainably. Simply ask the question. And like anything else you buy - if you can't get transparent answers, move along to another vendor.
Minderoo Foundation publishes four great tips in Consumer Seafood Guide to assist consumers.
If you are buying seafood in bottles or tins, look for accreditations like Fair Trade Certified, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Marine Stewardship Council - MSC. Check your fish with an app: GoodFish: Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide or Seafood Watch.
If you are a restaurant, cafe, caterer, grocer or anyone who deals with seafood, please understand the important role you play in fixing or f*&king the oceans. Do your research, buy responsibly and support good sustainable practice.